This week's blog is very different to most. It wasn’t easy to write and brought back a lot of painful memories in the process. But I feel that it is such a strong and sensitive topic that needs to be addressed. Without this experience, I would not be the person that I am today.
As a kid in primary school, I was a confident young girl who had a massive passion for dance and music. It didn’t matter where I was or who I was with, I would sing all the time and I loved showing the dances that I worked so hard on and performed outside of school. I was just trying to fit in as all kids do. But the further I got into primary school, the more things started to change. My confidence started to deteriorate. Kids started saying horrible things, they started calling me names, and as time went on, it only got worse. Words started turning into actions and I didn’t know why this was happening. I just remember sitting on the staircase by myself hoping things would get better. But it never really did. I just learnt to “cope” with what was happening which is NOT OK.
It started to get really bad in the beginning of year 6 - my last year in primary school. Generally, people look back at primary school and think about their treasured memories. For me, this is not the case. I look back and cringe over some of the moments that I’ve tried to erase from my memory. I just remember waiting patiently for my name to be called to see what class I was in and to see the people that I would be surrounded with for the year. As each name got called, I finally heard mine. I walked over to my class and looked around at some of my fellow classmates. Some people were new, some people I had been friends with in the past and some that I had never even said a word to before. Maybe this was the year that I’d find a group of friends that would accept me, for me.
Year 6 is the year everyone starts to “grow up”. Everyone has a new sense of authority now that they are oldest kids in the school. Some even start to hit the lovely thing that has changed all of us - puberty. Girls start trying to impress the boys, so they start to style their hair, paint their nails and they try to make themselves look more pretty and stylish. I, on the other hand, was still the same girl as the year before. A very tomboyish, long-haired girl who had the same passion for singing and dancing.
So my first official day started, I remember it was a rainy day and I had new books and stationary that I was very proud of. I took them out of my brand new school bag that I had also purchased the week before. Within a matter of moments, they were wiped off my table by one of my classmates. I looked up at the person who did it, confused, before I proceeded to pick them up off the floor. They didn’t even say sorry. But I tried to ignore what just happened, I placed them back on my table and proceeded with my day. Everything seemed fine after that. That was until I came back from lunch and every everything was gone. My brand new school books and pencil case were gone. I looked in my bag, I looked around my table and I looked around the classroom - I couldn’t find them anywhere. Someone yelled “Look! It’s down there!” I looked out the window and my heart dropped. Someone had chucked them into the garden downstairs and to make matters worse, they were drenched. As some of the people in my class started to laugh, my eyes started to water. I ran out of my classroom to get them, I just remember not wanting to return. Why would anyone do this to me? I never found out who did it.
As the year went on, I still tried to gain some acceptance from the kids in my class. I just wanted to have friends, you know? I wanted to be like everyone else. I noticed most of the girls started to wear their hair down in class so I started to do it, too. Maybe they would accept me if I did the same. They didn’t. Instead, I got stuck with the name “Cousin IT” for most of the year. I tried to not let it affect me, but deep down, it did.
I finally started to become friends with some of the girls in my class. They seemed cool, well cool at first. They invited me to have lunch and everything seemed to finally go my way. I was finally making friends. However, there was one girl who was the “leader/ head girl” of the group. She wasn’t in the same class or anything, she just had been friends with the girls in the past and she was the one who changed everything. She didn’t like the fact that I was around, and she made it very obvious.
Slowly, day by day, things started to change and even I started to change as well. They started making me do things which I wasn’t very comfortable with doing. Stuff that isn't a massive deal these days but back then, it was so far out of my comfort zone. They made me swear, and say words that were inappropriate. This wasn’t like me. They made me spend my own lunch money and give them the food. This wasn't like me. But I felt like I had friends, I didn’t know back then that this was not ok.
At one stage, the latest trend were “von dutch” hats. Everyone had one. These “friends” that I had wanted one, too. So they turned to me. They expected me to buy them for everyone in the group. I tried to, but the day I didn’t turn up to school with them, I was no longer their friend. I was no longer part of their group. I had lost the people that I thought were my friends. I kept trying to reinforce myself that everything ok but I cried myself to sleep that night.
The next day I went school, trying to not let them see how much it affected me. So I put on a smile and pretended that everything was ok. At one stage though, it got a bit much. So I asked my teacher if I could bathroom and I was excused from class. The head-girl from the group must have seen me leaving through her classroom window and excused herself as well. I felt her presence behind me so I went the long way. I went up through another building and proceeded downstairs where the bathrooms were. She was still behind me. I heard her coming closer and closer, and in an instant, I just remember that I was at the bottom of the staircase. She had pushed me down. I was lucky that I didn’t break anything. I was just scratched and very emotional. I remember her saying “Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you tell anyone that I did this, I will make your life hell.” I didn’t know what to do or say. What could I say? All I could do was just lay there for that moment, pick myself back up and then locked myself in the bathroom as a tried to wipe away the blood seeping from my fall. I covered myself up and returned back to class when my eyes weren’t red anymore. I got in trouble when I returned back for taking so long. If only my teacher knew what just happened. She never did, I never told her.
I couldn’t handle it anymore. What could I do? Should I tell someone? Should I act “sick” for the rest of the year? Should I ask to change schools? Should I tell my parents and teachers? All of these questions had one problem, they would spark curiosity to whoever I was asking. Instead, I started to look elsewhere. My brother had been involved in the sport of wrestling for a few months now, I would always go and watch, but I had no athletic ability. I came last at everything except dance. However, it was the closest thing to self-defence that I had access too. So I joined. I stepped on the mat, excited for my first session. I started following everyone else running around the circle for warm up and threw up everywhere. That was the end of my first session. It was a terrible experience.
Determined to try again, not because I liked the wrestling, but because of everything else that was happening in my life at the time, I hopped on the mat and I made it past the warm up. I did it… without throwing up! I remember my dad giving me a pat me on the back as he laughed. It gave me gave me a bit of confidence. I even had a few wrestling matches that day. I fell on my back every time but I started to like wrestling. It gave me something to work towards.
Within a few months, I was actually getting somewhere. I wasn’t giving up on myself as easy. And at 11 years old, I was starting to turn my negative experiences into my fuel. I wasn’t going to let my bullying effect me anymore. I felt safe on the mat, I felt like I belonged there. I entered my first competition and I won. I then entered a few other competitions and I won them, too. If I could have the confidence to stand up for myself on the mat, what was stopping me at school?
It was beginning of October, the week before my first National Championships for wrestling. At school, the same girl that pushed me came up to me again and tried to start a conflict at the end of lunch. All I was doing at the time was sitting down on a steel bench eating my delicious lunch by myself, so I ignored her and didn’t let it phase me. I had this new found confidence that no one knew about. That only made her more frustrated. She tried to act out by calling me names and trying to push me off my seat but this time she was caught, a teacher caught her in the act. I didn’t have to do anything. She got into quite a bit of trouble and didn't bother me at that point in time. The weekend after, I won my first National Championships. I remember my teammates being so proud of me. These people were my friends but most of all, these people became my family. The more I realised that the more I realised that I didn't need those friends who put me down at school. I had better people in my life and I knew that I finally found people who accepted me, for me.
That week was a massive life changer for me. I realised in that moment that standing up for yourself is ok. However, bullying is NOT ok any circumstance. Whether you are the bully or the bystander, you have no idea what repercussions the bullying can have on one person's life.
I am one of the lucky ones. Through bullying, I found something like I love and has given me a sense of belonging. Some kids/people aren’t as lucky. Be kind to others and stand up for people who may not necessarily have a voice themselves. You don’t know how much you can change someone's life.
It is true when they say that inspiration can be drawn from anywhere, or from any one for that matter.
For the past two months, I have been in Finland training full time on a six-month United World Wrestling scholarship. It has been quite a journey, to say the least. Amazing training, amazing facilities, and lots of amazing people. But, being in a remote place where only very few people speak good English, it can get quite hard emotionally. Having no one to turn to when you are having those rough days and you're missing home or someone to tell you to keep going when you physically can’t give anymore—that is when it starts to kick in. The feeling of doubt, failure, disappointment and loneliness. Everyone has felt these emotions at one stage or another, but for me, I think those feeling were starting to become very overwhelming at the beginning. It made me feel that I wasn't not good enough and I really started to get very homesick.
At training, I am not the best wrestler on the mat. I am not the fastest person on the mat, nor am I not the strongest person. If anything, I am the opposite. The wrestlers here are incredible, and it is a testament as to why they do so well internationally. But if anything, it is making me work harder to be at their level. I will do anything it takes to be up there with them.
But then that leaves me thinking...How do I even compare to the level that they are at?
The thing is, comparing yourself to other people is the first problem. Comparing is a very confronting thing and majority of the time it is only brought on by self-doubt. If you are doubting something about yourself or your ability, it slowly gets inside your head and only make things worse. You have to change your thinking. You are not them, and they are not you. Only you have the power to change, and the only thing you should be comparing yourself to is the person who you were yesterday.
But today was an interesting day. I had a conversation with a Finnish lady named Maria. Here in Finland, I try not to say too much to a lot of people as I am not sure if they can speak English, but Maria spoke a few words in Finnish, and then she realised as she laughed and said “You are not from Finland, are you?”. I laughed back at her, told her where I was from and the conversation went on from there. I found out she was in her early 40s and had been doing wrestling and jiu-jitsu for the past four years—what a coincidence! I asked her “what made you want to start?” she replied and told me her story about having a heart attack and it gave her a new meaning to life. Wow! What a story and what an incredible woman!
As we laughed and talked about the similarities between our countries and the two sports of wrestling and jiu-jitsu, one thing that really stood out were the topics of comparison and perseverance. We both agreed that sometimes being the only girl on the mat is hard, just like being surrounded by people which are so much better than you is hard. But that is what makes you stronger and that is the only way you are going to get better. This is why you cannot compare someone else's ability or journey to yours. They haven’t walked in your shoes, and they haven’t had the journey you’ve had. So why put yourself down?
We also talked about the outcomes to focusing on yourself as opposed to others. When you start seeing those improvements from all the tough times you've had and when you start focusing on your own journey, those are the biggest wins. When those small goals finally start becoming real - you know you did that from all the hard work you've put in. And you should be proud of that!
She definitely gave me the inspiration I needed today. It just proves that no matter where you are in life, people may not be going through exactly what you are going through, but they battle things which are similar. I just want to say, Thank you, Maria, for giving me so much inspiration today. Our little talk in the sauna really inspired me to keep going and get the very best out of this experience. I wish nothing but the best for you.
With a big few weeks of competitions ahead, I am really looking forward to becoming better every single day and increasing my chances of reaching my dreams of medalling at the Commonwealth Games next year and the Olympic Games in 2020.
Will be posting more blogs and results within the next few weeks so keep an eye out. Peace!
Oceania's this year was in lovely land of Tahiti. Oh la la!
Crystal blue water. A very hot, sticky climate. A room with no air-conditioning. A cold hose for a shower. A 5kg weight cut and 5 years since I last competed at a Oceania Championships in Wrestling.
This year was different. Was I prepared? Physically--yes (well kind-of), mentally--definitely not. You'd think because of my preparation leading up into Oceania's and being granted with the opportunity to go to Finland to train, I was ready. But, I did just come back from taking a year off to focus on myself, focus on my work and try to build a life for myself outside wrestling. So it could do me a world of good, or work against me. And as they say "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - You're right!".
I had a few wrestles that day but it was my finals match I was worried about. I versed Aquino from Guam. Watching her sister from the side lines as she competed against another opponent, I tried to scoop out some techniques or similarities in their styles. In my head I repeated "Outside single. Snap to outside single". This was a common trait I found in her technique. But nothing compares until you hop inside that circle.
It was my turn.
I started to warm-up. Doing everything I used to do to pump myself up: Jumping on the spot, chucking in some tuck jumps to elevate my heart-rate, and tapping my feet side-to-side to keep myself warm. I remember looking across to MAT A, and the other Aussie who competed on that mat had just been defeated. But I couldn't focus on that, I had to focus back on myself. They called my name. I took my jacket off, I walked to my corner then to the centre of the mat. It was the last match before lunch so everyone was watching. We shook hands, and the whistle blew. It was go time!
"Stay low, and watch the outside single"
I kept my stance low, watching for any set-up attacks she may do. But she was a diver- She loved her low outside/sweep singles. She knew she was good at getting them too but it was all in good time. First 2 mins, she was able to get one outside single that gave her 2 points. But I knew that there was still time. In my head I kept repeating the words above. As she shot, I sprawled and defended as best as I could. I went for the front headlock and worked on control. I tried to attack from that position, but before I knew it, she was out. It was back to square one. Last minute of the match - passivity call - against me. I now had 30 seconds to attack. I got one push out and got a point. Usually, I tend to be a little bit more defensive on passivity calls as sometimes being forced to attack can work against you, but this time I was behind and needed points. Whistle blew. Round one was over.
The heat and humidity started to kick in. Breathing got heavy. I knew she would be coming in with her outside singles so I tried to stay low. As the round went on, the harder it got and the more my technique started to suffer. I remember getting pushed out of bounds, and at the time, I went for a throw. It was successful. We stood back up, walked back to the centre and someone threw the towel in. Now in Wrestling, a "throwing the towel in" means to challenge a point. I honestly had no idea who threw it in. I was dizzy and focused on getting my breath back. But when the referee looked at me for my approval for the challenge, I looked back at my coaches, I trusted their opinion so I looked back at the referee and said "OK". During this time, my teammates told me why they challenged the point. I'm glad they were so attentive! I definitely wasn't. But unfortunately, the challenge was denied. She got one point for it. As the time went on, I became desperate and started taking very lazy shots. Her points kept climbing. Last 10 seconds, I was breathing heavy, desperate for any point I could get, I went for the outside single myself and got it. But it was too late. The whistle had blown. I had lost the match. I remember my disappointment. I found it hard to pick myself up off the floor. The expectations for me to win were high. But I lost and sometimes that hurts more than anything. But once I calmed down, I was ok.
You never "lose" when you are an athlete. The best athletes know that you either win or you learn. That's just the way it goes. For me, it gave me fire. It gave me something to work on. But more importantly, it was the slap on the back I needed to start taking my wrestling seriously again. Wrestling you can't do "part-time". If you are a serious athlete, it requires 100 percent of your dedication and commitment. But I know I haven't given it the time it needs, and now I know I should. My fire was back! I just couldn't wait to go home and start to get to work!
But there was one more event the next day - Beach Wrestling. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of beach wrestling at all. I dressed up in a dressy top and denim shorts, expecting not to do it. Honestly, I was dressed to go Island Hopping on Moorea Island in Tahiti. But since that venture failed, I returned back to the venue and a few friends convinced me to do it. Let's just say, it didn't take much convincing. It's all about having fun, right? I didn't do too badly, either! Two exhibition matches and two wins! Even against some tough opponents. I was happy with that.
But it made me think. What made that any different then my match the day before? Was it because there was no pressure? Was it because it didn't mean anything? Was it who I was versing? All in all, I think it was a mixture of all three. Because there was no pressure, and because its a different game, I guess the thought process is very different.
I am interested to see how I go in the next few months. I now have a lot of things to work on. I also have some big competitions coming up in the next few months, and a big opportunity too! All I can say is, watch this space!
After only a few months, it was time to return to Finland for a UWW Women's Wrestling Camp for 10 days. I was chosen as one of two Athletes from Australia to attend this camp amongst many athletes from around the world. The objective of this camp is to strengthen the Commonwealth Nations to improve their standard of wrestling as a whole.
The first few days were cold - very very cold. Going from the Australia 40 degree weather to -20 degrees, it was a massive shock to the body. Breathing was heavy, legs were stiff but I knew that this camp I couldn't complain, I just needed to get it done.
First training session was technique. We were lead by Russian Coach Maksim Malanov and African RDO Vincent.
Every day after that was a mixture of fitness testing, technique and lots of mat time. From many countries that were there - Nigeria, Austria, Norway, Finland & Russia, just to name a few, it was good to move around with an explore new variations of techniques.
As the camp came to a close, it was time to start weigh cutting and getting ready for the Oceania Wrestling Championships in Tahiti. Thank you to all involved for hosting a great training camp.
After having some time off after Olympic Trials last year, I had my first (of many) competitions to kick the year off. The Maribynong Open was a well conducted tournament with a great attendance. It was great to shake off the cobb webs and wrestle some amazing opponents.
Thank you so much to Victoria Wrestling Association for hosting a great event. Looking forward to the next one.